Dogs may be man’s best friend, but on the internet, it’s all about cats. And the undisputed ruler of online cat content is Cats of Instagram.
With 11.8 million followers and counting, the @cats_of_instagram account and associated hashtag has evolved from a simple cat appreciation page to a worldwide movement of cat lovers. Through Cats of Instagram, feline lovers across the world bond over their cats’ beans, bleps and biscuit-making sessions.
“I 100-percent think about joy when I choose photos or videos to post on @cats_of_instagram,” says Kady Lone, who runs Cats of Instagram together with Eli Omidi. “If I see something that makes me laugh or catches my eye, it’s definitely something I go for—something that sparks joy.”
And while spreading happiness via cat pix is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, their mission has grown to include something even more meaningful—making a difference for homeless cats around the world.
Of course, when Omidi launched Cats of Instagram, he couldn’t have imagined what it would turn into. He wasn’t trying to create a cat content empire. He was just trying to feel less homesick. In August of 2011, Omidi was sitting in one of his marketing classes at California State University, Fullerton, missing his pets back at his parents’ home in Los Angeles. That’s when he was hit with a jolt of inspiration: Why not dedicate an Instagram account to cats?
“I figured I’d start this as an experiment,” he says. “I didn’t even tell anyone about it.”
Why cats, you ask? Omidi’s always felt a special connection to felines. Growing up, he helped his family care for a wide array of species in their Koreatown apartment in L.A., including chickens, dogs, turtles and more. But when it came to cats, there was a deeper bond. “I always had a personal connection with cats,” he says.
That connection was the driving force behind Omidi’s Cats of Instagram idea. He started spending hours looking through cat pics and resharing them with followers. He began connecting with other cat lovers by commenting on their photos, and the page’s fan base started to grow. Soon, Cats of Instagram had 50,000 followers. Then 100,000. Then 200,000.
As the page’s digital footprint grew, Omidi realized he needed a partner to help him manage it all. In early 2013, he asked Lone, who was already Insta-famous for her account documenting the life of her mustachioed exotic shorthair cat Pudge, to join the Cats of Instagram team. Together, the pair curate content and choose pictures and videos to post, and Lone is also responsible for designing merchandise, media kits and partnerships with brands—whose interest in Cats of Instagram was growing along with its fan base.
“When Purina reached out to start working with us (in 2015), that was an eye opener,” Omidi recalls.
Omidi had never dreamed he could earn a living by sharing cat videos online, he says. But Cats of Instagram is so much more than a steady stream of the most adorable felines on the web. It’s become the digital place where every cat parent wants to be—a strong community of like-minded followers who have developed relationships and support one another.
“When a certain cat account is posted, I see a lot of other cat accounts congratulating them in the comments,” Lone says. “Many of these cat accounts become online friends or even real-life friends—just like I have with many of the friends I have today.”
Cats of Instagram has harnessed the power of its community to help cats in need. Its weekly “Foster Friday” posts shine a light on adoptable felines, giving homeless cats the exposure they need to find their forever home. It also raises funds for various animal organizations, including the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society and the Stray Cat Alliance in Los Angeles.
And this year, perhaps more than ever, the world has needed Cats of Instagram. These days, looking at cute, funny cat content is more than a distraction—it can be something to look forward to, a relaxing and uplifting moment of self-care in an otherwise stressful day.
“Sometimes we just need a break,” Omidi says. “Cats of Instagram is just something simple and pure and honest and anyone can participate.”
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